On August 14, 2015, back when the American presidency was just a twinkle in his beady eye, then candidate Donald Trump put his name to an agreement of a different order to that he has become accustomed to signing in the White House – the development of Trump International Hotel and Tower Bali, in collaboration with Indonesian investor Hary Tanoesoedibjo’s MNC Group.
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The “six-star” resort and 18-hole golf course will occupy a cliff-top site previously home to the Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali, which boasts sweeping views across the Indian Ocean and one of Bali’s most important temples, Tanah Lot. The original plot’s 103 hectares did not suffice, so MNC approached local landowners with the intention of expanding the development. A documentary produced by the Australian Broadcasting Company, which aired in July 2017, claimed that most were reluctant to sell their land; some emphatically refused to do so.
Still, that seemed of little import, MNC insisting in a statement, “Our land acquisition process has not encountered any problems or issues beyond the regular negotiations when dealing with land owners in Bali.” Judging by the group’s website, which describes a 108-hectare development (an increase of just five hectares), it would appear that those “regular negotiations” proved far from fruitful.
However, that wasn’t the only hurdle. There are also concerns that the resort will overshadow nearby Tanah Lot, both literally and figuratively. Balinese custom dictates that no building should exceed the height of the tallest coconut tree for fear of angering the gods, and while there is no evidence to suggest that Trump International Hotel and Tower Bali will surpass such a height, its name and association with a US president known for ostentation rather than restraint suggest otherwise.
And then there is the environmental impact of a major building project on an island that already struggles to balance tourism with sustainability. In a November 2 article, German news outlet Deutsche Welle argued that Bali’s rice terraces and subak irrigation system, which dates back to the 9th century, were under threat because of the demands of the tourism industry. It cited a 2012 study published in the Annals of Tourism Research, which found that more than half of the island’s groundwater supply was used by tourism, leading to water inequality and social and environmental problems that would affect Bali’s tourism and economy.
Six years later, and it is Bali’s residents who are paying the price. Borewells drilled by hotels and villa resorts have resulted in saltwater leaking into groundwater, affecting soil salinity and threatening farming activities essential to local communities. A Vice article from February reported that the tourism industry had caused as many as 260 of Bali’s 400-something rivers to run dry. The island’s water table has also lowered by 60 per cent, indicating that reserves are being withdrawn faster than they can be replenished.
And let’s not forget the great volumes of water needed to keep golf courses green. Inside Science, an online news service provided by the American Institute of Physics, states that the average United States golf course uses 130,000 gallons (492,000 litres) of water a day. Unless the 18-hole “world-class golf facility” at Trump International Hotel and Tower Bali, which MNC promises will “bring an elevated sense of luxury and sportsmanship” to the island, implements an aggressively sustainable irrigation system, groundwater levels are bound to drop still further.
While the resort bearing the name of the US president will not be alone in sucking the Island of the Gods dry, it certainly has the most exposure. Maybe, just maybe, the man who poses one of the biggest threats to the climate globally will help raise the profile of an increasingly pressing issue and activate environmental change.
We’re not holding our breath.
The small Thai island of Koh Samet, a popular weekend getaway for Bangkok residents off the coastline of Rayong province, has launched an environmental campaign, inspiring visitors to “say no” to carrier bags.
According to an October 31 report in the Bangkok Post, Koh Samet welcomes 1,500 visitors a day, and each uses eight plastic bags, on average. However, with no penalties to dissuade visitors from accepting carrier bags, and no incentives for businesses to stop providing them, how successful the “Say No To Plastic” drive will be remains to be seen.
Thailand has the best marijuana in the world – apparently. The claim was made by Jet Sirathraanon, chairman of Thailand’s public health committee, who spoke to AFP reporters after submitting a draft bill to permit the use of medicinal cannabis to the military junta’s National Legislative Assembly.
Jim Plamondon, vice-president of marketing at the Thai Cannabis Corporation, is, unsurprisingly, behind the move to legalise medicinal consumption.
If the bill passes, the country will become the first in Asia to “grant a visa to Mary Jane”, tapping into a market that is estimated to reach US$55.8 billion globally by 2025, according to US consulting company Grand View Research.
Who knows, perhaps medical tourists will soon be getting out of it along Sukhumvit, high in Chiang Mai – or higher in Pattaya.